Friday, 23 December 2016

The True Meaning of Christmas

I think a lot of people in long term relationships have that moment when the other person does something that makes you think "We've got a keeper folks!". One of mine was when my lady announced she hated Christmas.

I loathe Christmas. I despise Christmas. One of my great dreams is to someday spend Christmas in a hotel room with a giant pile of books and Chinese take away and pretend it isn't happening. People tell me I'll feel differently when I have kids of my own. I can't think of a better reason to never have kids.

Despite this, there are things to be admired about Christmas, and I'm not just talking about the opportunity to try and consume your own body weight. That's every day. Or that chance to fill your book shelves even more.

Look at Christmas - the date, the trappings, the everything. Look at - presuming a fair bit of cultural commonality here - the tree. Look at angel decorations. Look at the fat git in red with the smug expression who's everywhere. What do you see?

Okay, so that's what I see, but everyone else...

Syncretism. No blogger autocorrect, not cretinism, even if I think you're close to the mark there. Syncretism. Christmas as we know it, at least in the UK and many other parts of the Anglosphere, is a mixture of traditions from many different places. And those traditions - and the food stuffs, the drinks, the deities, and the everything else - are constantly evolving as people find ideas they like and drop ones they don't.

And syncretism - perhaps not the right word when talking about ideas - is very much evident in many of the great works of fantasy. They draw on a wide range of influences, just like real world traditions, and this is what gives them the depth and vividness of culture that makes people rave about books. 

In contrast, there are books that give the impression of the author having read nothing but the genre for the last ten years. Sometimes I like those books. Occasionally I even love them. Sometimes I read a few pages and put the book back. What I never do is think "Here be one of the greats". Even with the most compelling writing, the most captivating characters, the tightest plotting... it just won't catch. Its like cooking. Incredible technique and imagination can only so do much with tired ingredients. In the case of fantasy literature, the best ingredients means a few ideas that aren't in every book already.

These don't have to be giant-sized idea or crazy combinations. Tolkien took his own experiences and beliefs, married them to a blend of northern European legend, and created a legend of his own. Martin got a mileage out of an unusually direct port of a very specific time in English history. And JK Rowling stuck gold with British boarding schools + Wizards. Neither of the latter two were the first to go there either; the ideas don't have to be completely new. There just has to be something fresh about it.

So I urge all of the writers reading this to embrace the true spirit of Christmas and keep blending ideas together in that quest to find the perfect whole, beloved by nearly everyone.

Maybe its not such a bad holiday after all. Hmm... nah. Bah humbug everyone!

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